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We all know that parent/child, didactic workplace cultures where leaders emphasise control and authority over subordinates can be damaging to productivity, engagement, motivation and basically any positive metric we can seek to measure a businesses performance against.

Even better, the business world appears to be working this out now too. Far greater focus is now being placed on employee engagement, flattening of organisational structures and flexible approaches to work.

But what about workplace learning?

Sure we've moved from training to learning and development, even on to organisational development. Trainers have become facilitators. Cohorts are now guided through experiences instead of being lectured at. In some cases even PowerPoints have been conciled to the past!

So we've got it cracked? Well not quite. You see in L&D's desperation to be taken seriously we've set off on an agenda of codifying learning.

We track what people learn, devise career paths which tell people what to learn. We invest in wondrous LMS software to direct staff to what they should be learning and report on their engagement with their prescribed courses. We send updates to managers about which staff still aren't engaging with x training.

Reading this, you can start to see words which should start ringing alarm bells in the world of modern workplace culture- "track", "tell", "direct", "prescribe". In our efforts to be taken credibly we've started to talk the language of the very cultures we're seeking to change and evolve.

We advocate trusting our employees, autonomy to improve engagement, yet at the same time we tell them which is the right course to take and when, what tools they need to use to learn, and closely monitor their progress. These aren't behaviours which show a trusting business function. It screams we don't trust our employees to take responsibility of their own learning and the direction of their career.

There are recent improvements, the rise of curation signalling a move from courses to resources. Whilst this is progress, we're still telling people what they should be reading rather than trusting them to find this under their own steam.

So how do we fix it? Can we fix it? Should we fix it?

If we were to try and transfer control of learning to individuals and stop monitoring them then we'd be completely lost when it comes to proving ROI. But then most attempts I've seen at calculating ROI are wildly inaccurate estimates anyway.

I guess the biggest problem of handing control of learning back to individuals is the very real possibility that they might not need us any more at all! Then we definitely won't get a seat at the table.

So is that it? Game over for L&D. Or is there another way?

What do you think?

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  • Wow Chris - apologies for not replying to your blog earlier - this is incredibly thought provoking! 

    I've genuinely not considered this, but yes... It made me immediately think about self-directed learning - and the fact that when we use this term it probably couldn't be further from the truth - as its only self directed in the sense that you press the buttons, but the journey and the touch points are prescribed, and particularly when online via an LMS, the learner would be hard pushed to veer off track, as one step leads to another etc.  It certainly sniffs of 'lie there, you'll feel a sharp prick, I'm just injecting you with some learning'.

    I guess my question is - what would most learners (or potential learners) do given complete autonomy and trust to learn what they need, in the way and at the time they need it?

    I mean ultimately its about performance isn't it? 

    Are they performing? 

    If they aren't, do they know that? 

    And do they know how to fix it? 

    Can they go out and find the potential fixes for themselves? 

    Would they want to? 

    And if the answer is yes - it would be great to offer up these opportunties and then check out their performance a bit further down the line?

    And if its a no .. we've got the option to send them on a wonderful journey with fully functioning GPS so we know where they are at all times and when they have reached the finish...

    I guess its also down to 'What works best?'

    Which sounds like a great experiment to me - two people or groups not performing in a particular area - one gets 'prescribed' learning, the other gets the time to learn for themselves...then check out performance after?

    • Thanks Kathryn!  Firstly that would be an amazing experiment to conduct!  It would be really interesting to see what would happen.

      I think one potential direction L&D could take to move away from this is something similar to the approach which Sky have been using in conjunction with Looop.  I read an article about how they were looking to create learning interventions which were avaiable immediately at the point of need.  So if someone were working on something and found a problem they couldn't get around, there would be learning available to them in that instant which they could tap in to help them fix their problem and keep working.  Here is the link to this - http://www.fosway.com/innovation-profile-sky/ .  This is a really interesting and thought provoking case study.

      I also like the ideas of Nick Shackleton-Jones on Learning Elimination - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/welcome-age-learning-elimination-nic...

      You are right that ultimately it boils down to performance and improving it.  I guess the issue we have in L&D is trying to prove that our interventions have caused that improvement.  If we were to give up trying to prove how important we are, and just got on with being important, would the wider business realise our importance or would we be just an invisible hand shaping things in the background?

      I've been thinking on this a bit more too.  I guess in a world of self directed learners, we would almost be like guidance counsellors and learning coaches.  Employees who decide that they want to learn more about something but don't know where to start could come to us for advice and guidance without us directly telling them what to do. 

      We could also act to improve systems where obvious points of failure become clear, or produce On Demand training for common repeated problems within our workplaces too.



      Innovation Profile: Sky
      10 Minute Read Innovation Profile: Sky Ripping Up The Rule Book Of People Development Sky is an organisation that has undergone significant transf…
      • Chris, the Sky Looop case study is fantastic, thank you for posting this. 

        The concept of learning within the workflow came up in a work discussion recently - the need for a cultural/mindset shift (a massive one) to even begin a transformation like this in an organisation is vital - and that needs to start with L&D, as I certainly know some great L&D people who would feel pretty redundant and so possibly resistant in the face of this change.  It sounds really challenging but dead exciting to me.

        The 'learning' process itself  makes me think its a bit like the way we use the internet as we are working, (well I do - so for me maybe trying to do something tricky in excel for example), but without the distractions that 'going online' might bring, and without the time thief inherent in the umpteen useless sites I click on before finding one that works for me.  It seems almost magic that notion of literally putting that instruction, checklist, top tip or piece of information right at your fingertips, intuitively, at just the right moment, whilst you are actually on task.

        Nick Shackleton-Jones is spot on with his Learning Elimination, and I agree that we do overcomplicate and oversize things in our mission to provide 'learning' - when just an aide memoir or simliar would be just the ticket.  

        So I wonder, if our organisation decided to incorporate these strategies tomorrow, what would our jobs look like in L&D?  What would our workflow be, and what sort of learning would we need within our workflow to perform? So workflow learning for an L&D person creating and supporting workflow learning...

        We'll have to do that after the performance experiment!

        Innovation Profile: Sky
        10 Minute Read Innovation Profile: Sky Ripping Up The Rule Book Of People Development Sky is an organisation that has undergone significant transf…
        • That's a really interesting question - if our organisations chose to adopt these new strategies, what would our jobs in L&D look like? It might be worth it's own discussion on the forum.

          In terms of what our jobs would look like. I think In the short term we would be the champions of this new approach. Essentially we would be the permission givers. We'd be there to reassure people that they can find their own solutions to their problems. That they are allowed to explore and that learning isn't an outside of workflow task or experience, that they are constantly learning through completing tasks.

          But in the long term, I don't know. Our work in L&D would be very different. It could be that we become process analysts, looking for common points of failure or inefficiencies which we can fix, or it may be a more human approach, coaching people to help them create their own long term development goals and work with them to help them achieve them. 

          What are your thoughts? Would love to hear other people's thoughts too!



          Innovation Profile: Sky
          10 Minute Read Innovation Profile: Sky Ripping Up The Rule Book Of People Development Sky is an organisation that has undergone significant transf…
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